Brett Kavanaugh is now facing three accusers (and counting) and a very real possibility of seeing his nomination to the Supreme Court wither and die. His difficulties stem from an early, unwise decision to deny alleged involvement in a rowdy, alcohol-soaked culture of Georgetown Preparatory School and Yale University.
Imagine what would have happened if, when first confronted by the accusation of sexual abuse by Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh — who says it did not happen -- had instead simply said something like: "My high school and college years included a lot of irresponsible behavior, much of it involving alcohol abuse. While I do not remember the events or actions alleged by Dr. Ford, I deeply apologize for any actions I took that caused her to feel harmed, abused or unsafe in any way. Few things are more terrifying than to feel that one's personal safety is at risk, and I take Dr. Ford at her word that I caused those feelings in her. That was never my intention, and I am greatly distressed to learn that she has carried these feelings for many years. I sincerely apologize to Dr. Ford and her family, and would welcome a private dialogue with her to discuss any ways to repair the damage I caused."
Kavanaugh said no such thing, of course. In fact, he issued statements denying any bad behavior on his part at any time during his youth -- "immediately, unequivocally, and categorically," in the words of his statement prepared in advance of the next Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
"I never did anything remotely resembling what Dr. Ford describes," Kavanaugh says in the statement. "The allegation of misconduct is completely inconsistent with the rest of my life. The record of my life, from my days in grade school through the present day, shows that I have always promoted the equality and dignity of women."
The categorical denial creates a problem for Kavanaugh. Claiming such a high standard of conduct opened the door to public statements of college classmates who say his behavior was far from exemplary.
"He's trying to paint himself as some kind of choirboy," Lynne Brookes told the Washington Post. Brookes, a Republican, former pharmaceutical executive and former roommate of a woman Kavanaugh allegedly abused, claims she encountered the future judge drunk at a college fraternity event. "You can't lie your way onto the Supreme Court, and with that statement out, he's gone too far. It's about the integrity of that institution."
Liz Swisher, a Democrat who was on the Yale campus at the same time as Kavanaugh, also went public with a damning take on his behavior. "Brett [Kavanaugh] was a sloppy drunk, and I know because I drank with him. I watched him drink more than a lot of people. ...it's not credible for him to say that he has had no memory lapses in the nights that he drank to excess."
The sticky politics of sorting truth from falsehood will be much tougher than it needed to be. Back in 1999, when asked about rumors that he abused alcohol and cocaine, candidate George W. Bush answered the allegations with the blunt, opaque admission: "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."
Bush's opponents found it hard to make much out of that. And no schoolmates popped up to challenge what was, after all, an acknowledgment that he misbehaved.
Kavanaugh won't get any kind of similar wiggle room. He may someday come to regret pretending to have been a paragon of virtue in an environment that clearly was governed by vice.
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